If you haven’t been sending out messages related to your COVID-19 response to employees, customers, prospects, and others, you need to start now. Consistent communications regarding how your business is dealing with this public health issue serve a broad range of purposes:
- Assuages fears and provides stability and support
- Helps avoid confusion and panic
- Provides helpful guidelines to keep people safe and your business moving forward
- Shows what you can’t do while highlighting what you can
Guidance for COVID-19 Communications
Whatever your message, there are a few things you should keep in mind when creating communications around COVID-19:
If your organization is providing updates, be sure to have them sent around the same time (if you’re able) and by the same person. This will help condition people to look for the updates and know who to contact if there are any questions.
Use a Balanced Tone
These are uncertain times and people are understandably nervous and frustrated. Sympathize with the situation by using personal language like “we understand” and “I hope” to communicate on a human level and help dispel some of the panic that can ensue by using more stark, clinical language. Recognize that while this is a business communication, the message is a human service. If you have to communicate an inconvenience, express your own disappointment in having to alter your customer service offerings, and then explain how you are adjusting to continue to meet customer needs the best you can. It’s okay—even encouraged—to speak optimistically, but don’t bury the seriousness of the issue.
Keep it as Brief as Possible
There’s a fine line between being thorough and long-winded. The goal of any communication should always be to convey the message in as few words as possible; the longer a message gets, the more likely people are to ignore it. Instead, provide links and follow direct marketing best practices by splitting everything into bite-sized pieces, including bullet points and subheads, and using emphasis tools (highlighting, bolding, underlining, etc.) to note important messaging.
Be especially cognizant of your words. There are some terms that may seem interchangeable, like isolation and quarantine, but they have very different meanings and implications when it comes to COVID-19. Here are a few commonly used terms:
COVID-19: stands for novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 and is the name of the illness currently spreading. You should always use this term when talking about the current situation; Coronavirus refers to a large family of viruses and isn’t specific to the particular strain that is circulating. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC), and reputable media channels are using this term, and so should you.
Quarantine: a state, period, or place of isolation meant to separate people who have been exposed or may have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 from the general public to prevent the spread of illness. Those in quarantine are not necessarily sick or exhibiting symptoms.
Isolation: when someone who is sick stays away from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These people are under stricter restrictions than those in quarantine.
Social Distancing: Measures taken to avoid the spread of illness; includes avoiding social gatherings, public places, and interactions not deemed a necessity.
Asymptomatic: showing no symptoms of being sick. It’s important to note that people can be infected with COVID-19 and be asymptomatic. (Forbes says that 17.9% of those with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.)
You can find more extensive lists of terms and phrases from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and the LA Times, and learn more about the facts of COVID-19 on the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control websites.
Speak to Everyone
Keeping your sentence structure simple and using words that are at an eighth-grade reading level (80% of Americans can read at this level) will help ensure that your messaging is getting across. You can test the readability of your writing by using the Flesch-Kincaid readability tool, which will tell you the reading grade level of your text.
Take a Breath
Now is not the time for quick messages and FYIs, despite the urgency of the situation. Take the time to proof your messages to ensure their accuracy and ability to be comprehended easily. It may take a few extra minutes, but it’s important to get your messaging right the first time.
Have others proof your COVID-19 communications to ensure that the information is correct, complete, and coherent. It will also give others the chance to raise any questions or offer other ideas that can be addressed in the message to avoid confusion once it goes live and prevent the need for clarification messages later on.
The situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving, and with that, so will our response as a people—the only way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working with the same goals and standards in place is to communicate clearly and efficiently. Subscribe to SpeakingDIRECT for more tips to get it done with as little pain as possible.
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